Soho’s Bar Italia has a rich history – the building in Frith Street that houses it played host to John Logie Baird’s first public demonstration of television, while the coffee shop itself, founded in 1949, is the subject of both an eponymous song by Pulp and a planned musical by Dave Stewart and Ian La Frenais - but yesterday, cycling took centre stage with the official launch there of the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Alongside race director Angelo Zomegnan at yesterday’s launch in the café which counts among its customers England football manager Fabio Capello was Mark Cavendish, who wore the race leader’s maglia rosa following the opening day’s team time trial in Venice as the Giro celebrated its centenary in 2009.
Again, this year’s race starts with a team time trial, this one in Turin with the Giro celebrating 150 years of Italian unification, and Cavendish’s HTC-Highroad team will be among those looking to get one of their riders into the race leader’s jersey for the following day’s quite literally mouthwatering stage from the Piemontese truffle capital of Alba to Parma, famous for its cheese and ham.
Speaking to The Guardian, Cavendish, who lives in Tuscany, said: "I love Italy. I love the country, I love the race, I love the passion. And the Italian people love the sport. The respect they have for bike riders makes your job a lot easier. It's a beautiful Giro this year."
The Manxman missed last year’s race, but will return this year with hopes of adding to the five stages he picked up in 2008 and 2009 in the first of three Grand Tours he plans to ride this year. In August, he plans to begin his defence of the green jersey he won in last year’s Vuelta, while the previous month will see him in France chasing that elusive maillot vert in the Tour de France.
With the Giro d’Italia awarding equal points for both sprint and mountain stages – and there are plenty of the latter in this year’s race, including a double ascent of Mount Etna – Cavendish acknowledges that the points classification in that race may be beyond his grasp.
"I don't go so well uphill but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it," he reflected. "The Giro's difficult to predict for the points jersey because there are so many mountain-top finishes and there are as many points on offer for mountain stages as for sprints. It's really for the most consistent all-round rider and it's pretty difficult for me to win it. It's a difficult race but that's what special about it."
The 25-year-old insists that despite nasty crashes in the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar, his start to the current season has not had the same disruption he suffered from 12 months ago, when an infection due to dental surgery was compounded by a run of bad luck that included a heavy fall in the Tour of Switzerland.
"The only real effect is that I could maybe have won two or three more stages than I have done," Cavendish insisted. "In terms of preparation, they haven't put me back at all. I heal pretty well and I know if I crash on the first day of the Tour de France, I've got to get up and get on with it. It toughens you up a bit."
Out of form as a result of his dental troubles, Cavendish was always unlikely to successfully defend the Milan-San Remo title he’d won from Heinrich Haussler by the narrowest of margins 12 months earlier, but he maintained that he will be better prepared this year.
"It was just the way the race panned out," he said of last year’s race. "My front wheel collapsed at the bottom of the Turchino and I had to use every one of my team-mates just to get back to the front half of the peloton. We were chasing all day, so we were always going to be tired. I'm in better form now."
Another one-day target for Cavendish this year is the World Championship in Denmark, where the course should prove much friendlier for him and pure sprint rivals such as André Greipel and Tyler Farrar than the course used in last year’s race in Geelong, won by Thor Hushovd.
However, while it may lack the punchy climbs that helped put paid to his chances of taking the rainbow jersey in Australia, Cavendish maintains that the technical aspects of the course in Denmark may cause problems.
"I saw the course last year when I did a ride with some cancer patients," he revealed. "It's pan-flat but there a lot of corners and narrow roads. It's not going to be an easy race at all. You're going to have to keep your wits about you."
According to the website Sport Business, Matteo Pastore, director of media rights at Giro organiser RCS Sport, said that the launch took place in London due to the UK’s status as one of the key foreign markets for the race, together with Spain and Germany.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.